I write to you all with joyous news: M. Night Shyamalan has nailed the twist! The Visit actually contains a twist I hadn’t thought of throughout the entire film, despite the clues actually being laid out right in front of the audience for all to see. Unfortunately, this comes at a cost, as the rest of The Visit is a shambling mess of a film that tries to be a found-footage horror film, but ends up being one of the most unintentional comedies of the year. Don’t call it scary, don’t call it innovative, and whatever you do – don’t call it a comeback.
Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) are going to visit their grandparents for the first time in their lives, and Becca – an amateur filmmaker – is planning to create a documentary to repair the relationship between her mother (Kathryn Hahn) and her estranged parents. Throughout their stay, the kids slowly realize that something’s wrong with Nana and Pop Pop (Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie). Something they can’t put their fingers on is afoot, and they are determined to solve their familial mystery through their twin lenses of investigation. If they survive The Visit, the story they’ll have to tell will be so unbelievable that only live footage would be able to tell it.
Where does one begin to take apart the puzzle box of failure that is The Visit? Perhaps it’s the characters that feel so one note, the violin they’re being played on has broken. One could say that Shyamalan is trying to construct a meta-commentary by writing such textbook characters as “pretentious young cinephile” and “amateur YouTube rapper” into his found-footage film, but really, all that he’s doing is alienating the audience from his characters. Also, both children are so annoyingly precocious that by time the film’s third act climax starts to kick in, you want them to actually die. This is no fault of the young actors portraying our leads, as they can only do so much with what they’ve been given.
Ultimately, the greatest failing of The Visit is that the story just isn’t all that interesting, and it’s not even a solid ride. For a film that’s being sold as a horror narrative, you actually get the feeling that The Visit is going for more of that neo-Hitchcockian vibe that Shyamalan is known for attempting. By time the actual explanation behind the grandparent’s affliction is revealed, I could not have cared less because the film that preceded the attempted mic drop didn’t fit. The narrative the marketing department was trying to sell to us as an audience doesn’t fit. Nothing fits with this damned twist, which is such a shame because it really was something that was not only plausible, but could have really taken our breath away in the right hands.
If we’re supposed to believe that The Visit was directed by an obnoxiously pretentious teenage girl who thinks she’s Stanley Kubrick by way of Werner Herzog, then the film has succeeded in spades. Unfortunately, this was supposed to be M. Night Shyamalan’s big return to form, and in that respect this film falls flatter than a pancake. Gone is any trace of the “steady hand” we saw in Unbreakable, The Sixth Sense, and even Signs; and in its place is a man who’s just trying to stay afloat.
There is one silver lining to The Visit though, and that is the fact that you won’t be bored watching this movie. When you’re not laughing at its ineptitude, you’re scowling at how it continues to shoehorn Tyler’s career as a YouTuber down your throat. Either way, you can’t complain that nothing happens in The Visit -- it’s just that nothing interesting or cohesive happens. It’s a trainwreck.